From the Hollywood Hills to Byram Hills

By Edith Bachmann

No matter where you are, beginning high school is a big transition. High school means new friends, more work, and a new environment. Over the summer, I moved to Armonk from Studio City, California. Unsurprisingly, it’s very different. But, how exactly are New York high schools different from California high schools? Are they built differently? Do they teach differently? What is life like on opposite sides of the United States? All of these questions ran through my mind and led to some surprising and not so surprising results.

In eighth grade, almost everyone is excited and a little anxious for high school. Here, in Armonk, everyone attends the same public school: Byram Hills. However, in Los Angeles, it’s more of a process. Students in Los Angeles have the ability to choose their high school. Most high schools are specialized with a singular focus in mind. For instance, there are schools with a focus on medicine or the performing arts. Similar to Armonk, students in Los Angeles have the choice to enroll in private or charter schooling. However, unlike Armonk, magnet schools are much more popular. Often the specialized schools are magnet schools. Some schools have multiple magnets while others have a single prized magnet program. For example, North Hollywood High School has a Zoo Magnet, a STEM magnet, and a Highly gifted magnet. Often, a lottery determines who can go.

If I still lived in California, I would have attended Cleveland High School which is home to a Humanities Magnet. My friend, Lilli Slotnick, attends Cleveland and she explains, “We have four core subjects. These are social institutions, arts and religions, environmental studies, and English… we are studying how humans interact with the world around them meaning different cultures, societies, and their environment. Our teachers all come together for about two hours a week (on their own time) to prepare our units and our lessons. They don’t use textbooks, so they research and become experts on the unit they’re teaching. Each unit we are required to take an IUE, an interdisciplinary unit exam. The IUE is an exam that lasts two hours. For the IUE you have to write a 6-10 page essay about the unit and connect the core subjects. This develops writing skills better than an average student who only has to take the SAT. By graduation, we will have taken 16 exams.” This is a lot different from Byram Hills as our classes are not writing-based, interdisciplinary, or team-taught. The differences don’t stop there but reflect in the layout and architecture of Byram Hills and Southern California schools.

Visually, schools in California are extraordinarily different. Due to mild weather with no snow and little rain, schools in Southern California are open to the elements and mainly take place outdoors. Often, classrooms are not joined by a hallway but are separated with outdoor walkways. Students eat lunch outdoors on tables instead of in a cafeteria. Even if students did eat indoors, there wouldn’t be enough room for all the students as some schools are very large. At my old school, there were usually 35 kids in my class with 50+ kids in my gym and band classes. Here the classes are much smaller. The size at BHHS is better in the sense that you get more attention from the teacher.

Another big difference is the curriculum. In Los Angeles, you can learn three high school math courses in middle school. In other words, you can take Pre-Algebra in 6th grade, Algebra in 7th grade and Geometry in 8th grade; if you are extremely advanced, then you can take Algebra, then Geometry, and then Algebra II. As for science, Earth Science is taught in sixth grade, Life Science in seventh grade and a variety of sciences covered in eighth grade (including astronomy, physics, and chemistry). The requirements for graduation differ in New York and Los Angeles. According to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s website, you need to take Math, English, World History, US History, Lab Science, Visual and Performing arts, a language other than English, and a college Prep Elective. Additional requirements include American Democracy, Economics, Physical Education, and Health. To graduate you need to pass these classes with a D or higher. According to Dr. McGrath, one of BHHS’ guidance counselors, in New York, to graduate you have to take English, Social Studies, Math, Science, World Languages, Art and/or Music, Health, Physical Education, CPR, and electives. For the most part, they are the same, but the amount of years required for each class differs. Dr. McGrath also noted to graduate one has to pass 5 Regents. These Regents are for Algebra 1, Global (end of sophomore year), US History (end of junior year), English (junior year), and 1 lab in Earth science, Biology or Chemistry. In California, there are final exams and state testing, but the Regents are foreign. The CAASPP (California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress) is the closest thing to the Regents for Californians. The English and Math CAASPP is administered every year 3rd through 8th grade and then in 11th grade. Science state tests are taken in 5th grade, 8th grade and all years of high school. These assessments are SBAC (Smarter Balanced Tests) which means they are critical thinking-based assessments.

Culturally, California and New York schools aren’t so different. The slime trend swept through California as did the bottle flipping trend. Now, I can answer a few frequently asked questions. Yes, there were cliques at my old school, I think that happens everywhere. No, not everyone’s parents are celebrities, but there were some famous parents and students. No, we didn’t spend our days at the beach eating avocado toast. However, there is a more relaxed beach culture in California, and it’s hard to resist the Pacific Ocean. I haven’t explored the beaches here yet, but I’m happy to report that there is some great avocado toast at the Beehive here in town. From my experience, the West Coast seems more laid back, but sometimes it seemed people were just friendly rather than sincere. Here in New York, people seem more direct. I think the stress of high school can be the same on both coasts especially when finals roll around. As for time, LAUSD schools start at 8:00 am and end at around 3:00. Although waking up earlier is hard, having the whole afternoon to explore my new neighborhood and make new friends is great.

Although 2,822.3 miles may separate my current high school and the high school I would have attended in California; I guess they aren’t so different after all. Eureka!